Athlete’s foot is the most common form of tinea, a fungal infection of the nails, skin, or hair. The fungus lives on the skin and breeds best in warm, moist conditions. If you go barefoot and pick it up in a locker room, pool, or bathroom, your sweaty sneakers let it thrive. The fungus triggers redness, swell- ing, cracking, burning, scaling, and intense itching between your toes. A nasty case can take a few weeks to cure, and if you don’t take the proper steps, it’ll come back. So here are some ways to strike back.
SOOTHE THE SORES. Use compresses to cool the inflammation, ease the pain, lessen the itching, and dry the sores. Dissolve 1 packet of Domeboro powder or 2 tablespoons of Burow’s solution (both available over-the-counter at pharmacies) in 1 pint of cold water. Soak a washcloth in the liquid and apply it as a compress for 15 to 20 minutes 3 or 4 times a day.
MEDICATE YOUR FOOT. Over-the-counter antifungal medications can help, but try a gel as opposed to a cream or lotion because the gels also contain a drying agent. Apply it 3 times a day up until 2 weeks after the problem seems to have cleared up.
SCRUB AWAY DEAD SKIN. When the acute phase of the attack has died down, remove any dead skin. It houses living fungi that can re-infect you. In the shower, work the entire foot lightly but vigorously with a bristle scrub brush.
CHANGE YOUR SHOES. Having two pairs of athletic shoes and alternating between them is a good idea, because it takes shoes a good 24 hours to dry out thoroughly. Also, dust the insides of your shoes with antifungal powder or spray. Another way to kill fungus spores: Spray a disinfectant (like Lysol) on a rag and wipe the insides of your shoes whenever you take them off.
DRY YOUR TOES. Allow your feet to dry for 5 to 10 minutes after coming out of the shower and before putting your shoes on. You can speed the process with a hair dryer; wiggle your toes to dry between them.
COVER UP IN PUBLIC PLACES. Wear slippers or shower shoes in areas where other people go barefoot. If you’re prone to fungal infections, you can pick them up almost anyplace that’s damp.
Blisters are your body’s way of saying it’s had enough. Be it too much friction or too much ambition, a blister—much like a muscle cramp or side stitch—is designed to slow you down and make you prepare better for physical activity. A blister forms because you’ve ruptured cell tissue and released plasma (the fluid in a blister), and the ballooned outside skin is your body’s way of preventing infection.
TO POP OR NOT TO POP. If you pop a blister, you risk infection. If you don’t, you have to protect it. I recommend popping blisters that are big enough to inhibit your sports activity. If you pop it, use a needle sterilized in alcohol. Wash the blister several times a day and cover it with some antibiotic ointment and a waterproof bandage. If you don’t pop it, cut a piece of moleskin in a doughnut shape and place it over the blister, with the blister in the open center. The moleskin will absorb the friction of activity, and as long as the skin is clean and dry, it will adhere. Moleskin and other “second skin” products should allow you to get back to your regular activities.
BEWARE STRANGE COLORS. If your blister is painful, oozing pus, and red around the edges, you may have an infection. See a doctor.
LET IT BREATHE. Air and water are good for healing, so at night remove the dressing, soak the blister in some water for 10 minutes, and then let it air out for the rest of the night.
KILL ANY ITCH. If the blister itches or burns, apply a little of the hemorrhoid cream Preparation H. It works.
WEAR FASHIONS THAT FIT. Properly fitted shoes and socks won’t give you blisters. If you feel a part of your foot rubbing, back off and address the problem. A thick waterproof bandage can help protect the area, and in a pinch, so will a piece of duct tape applied directly over the blister.
PREVENT THEM. Anything that reduces friction in the area will prevent blisters. Runners, buy and try double-layer socks. Putting petroleum jelly between your toes can also help.
Chapped lips give new meaning to the expression crack a smile. Athletes training in dry, cold weather or even in intense sunshine can develop chapped lips. The skin on the lips is very thin, so there’s nothing to protect them from the elements.
UP THE MOISTURE FACTOR. You could be dehydrated. Make sure you’re drinking enough fluids that your urine runs clear.
MIND YOUR NUTRITION. Nutritional deficiencies, especially in the B-complex vitamins and iron, can play a role in scaling of the lips. A multivitamin should give you what you need. Taking an omega-3 supplement (or eating more fatty fish like salmon) is also a good idea, because chapped lips can be caused by a lack of unsaturated fatty acids in the epithelial tissue.
SHOP FOR THE RIGHT LIP BALM. A waxy lip balm can cover your lips and help prevent chapping, but if they’re already chapped, forget it. You need moisture. Petroleum jelly is very effective. Also look for lip balms that have only natural ingredients like olive oil, almond oil, beeswax, and shea butter. And in a pinch, if you’re outside and have nothing else handy, rub your finger alongside your nose, then rub it on your lips. Your finger will pick up a little of the natural oil on your skin, which is the kind of oil the lips are looking for anyway.
Hemorrhoids are among the most common health ailments. More than half of us will develop them, usually after age 30, according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. A hemorrhoid is a swollen vein in or around the anus. There are several causes, including pregnancy and childbirth, poor diet, lifting heavy things, pushing during bowel movements, and sitting on hard surfaces. Heredity is also a factor. Whatever the cause, the tissue supporting the vessels stretches. The vessels then dilate, their walls become thin, and they bleed. If the stretching and pressure continue, the weakened vessels bulge. The symptoms are pain, itching in the anal area, bleeding during a bowel movement, and a protrusion in the anal area.
Many athletes suffer through hemorrhoids (some of you may recall Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett dealing with hemorrhoids during the 1980 World Series). Cyclists have it especially tough. Still, most hemorrhoids improve dramatically with simple measures.
ADD FIBER TO YOUR DIET. The American Gastroenterological Association suggests that drinking water and eating enough fiber are the two biggest ways to ease hemorrhoid flare-ups. This softens the stools and makes them easier to pass, reducing pressure on the hemorrhoids. Easy fiber sources include fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, and high-fiber cereals. A typical adult needs 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily.
GO WHEN YOU GOTTA GO. When the urge hits, head to the bathroom immediately. Don’t wait for a more convenient time. The stool can back up, which can result in increased pressure and straining later.
LIMIT YOUR TOILET TIME. An awful lot of folks read on the toilet. Not a good idea if you have hemorrhoids. Prolonged toilet sitting causes blood to pool and enlarge the vessels.
CLEAN YOURSELF TENDERLY. Regular toilet paper can feel like sandpaper on hemorrhoids. Dampen toilet paper before each wipe. Pre-moistened alcohol-free wipes also work well.
USE MEDICATION. Yes, hemorrhoid creams and suppositories reduce pain and swelling. But more isn’t necessarily better; use them as directed.
WORK WONDERS WITH WITCH HAZEL. A bit of witch hazel (found at your pharmacy) applied to the anus with a cotton ball is a terrific remedy. It causes the blood vessels to shrink and contract. Chill the bottle of witch hazel in the fridge—it feels even better when applied cold.
EAT BERRIES. The flavonoids found in blueberries and blackberries can help reduce the thinning of veins. In a study of 120 people with frequent hemorrhoid flare-ups, those who received a twice-daily supplement of 500 milligrams of flavonoids had fewer and less severe hemorrhoid attacks than those who didn’t. Another study, published in the British Journal of Surgery, looked at the effect of flavonoids on 100 patients facing surgery to fix their hemorrhoids. After 3 days of treatment, bleeding stopped in 80 percent of the patients. Continued treatment pre- vented a relapse in nearly two-thirds of the patients.
A NOTE ABOUT ANAL BLEEDING: Hemorrhoids can bleed after a bowel movement and blood in the toilet or on toilet paper can be a disturbing sight. But bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract works like this: The higher up the bleeding, the darker it is when it comes out. That’s why bleeding farther up the line, which signals more serious health issues, appears as a tarry, dark stool. Bright red blood that shows up only occasionally usually signals hemorrhoids. If you have chronic bleeding or dark stools, see a doctor.